Amazing pictures show iconic 120-year-old Bedford Marks and Spencer store down the years as closure looms

These amazing pictures show Bedford's 120-year-old Marks and Spencer store through the decades as the town fights to save it from closure.

Thursday, 24th January 2019, 10:30 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:48 pm
See M&S Bedford over its 120-year history in the town
See M&S Bedford over its 120-year history in the town

Marks and Spencer recently announced it plans to close the store, putting 68 jobs at risk. Town centre businesses are putting a positive case to Marks & Spencer management to save Bedford’s store from closure. Led by the Board of the independent Business Improvement District (BedfordBID), in collaboration with the council’s economic development team, they hope to persuade M&S bosses the town is viable due to huge investment in Bedford. This brilliant gallery of pictures from local historian Maurice Nicholson shows the iconic store over the years from its humble beginnings as a glorified market stall to the store on the corner of Harpur Street/Midland since its opening in 1929. READ MORE: Love your M&S: Join campaign to save Bedford’s M&S store from closure.

The market stall origins of the store before it relocated to the present premises which opened in 1929 replacing the ancient White Horse pub which had stood on that corner since at least Tudor time.
The very first Marks & Spencer in Bedford was not much more than a glorified market stall in the lower arcade (Harpur Street end) which opened in 1909, according to local historian Maurice Nicholson.
The White Horse had been important enough that the street from that corner up to Lime Street was originally called White Horse Street until it was renamed Harpur Street in the 1880s.
Another photograph shows the busy Midland Road way circa 1950s with buses coming down Silver Street past Boots (now Clinton Cards) and Braggins (now Beales).
"Images show the White Horse pub which used to sit on the corner of Midland Road and what is now part of Harpur Street. It was demolished for the brand new M&S which had its own label of St Michael - a mark of quality among shoppers for decades," says Maurice.
The stores official opening was at 10am on Friday, October 25. An extension to include an upper floor and side entrance in Harpur Street was added later.
You can almost smell the nostalgia in this particular photograph
A few of the special lines advertised in the old Bedfordshire Times and Independent prior to the grand opening were ladies handbags at 3s 11d, mens mackintoshes 5s, boys and girls serviceable boots, 5s, art silk hose, 1s and 2s 11d.
The store also advertised millinery, gramophone records, fancy goods, toilet necessities, enamel ware, garden bulbs, and gas and electrical goods, direct from manufacturers to public.
It only took 6 months after the closing of The White Horse before the M&S store was finished and opened at the end of October 1929. Maurice has looked up old photographs to back our campaign and illustrate how important M&S has been to Bedford for the past 90 years.
Maurice, who attended Bedford Modern School, formerly located on the site of the current Harpur Shopping Centre, is a lead Geo-Referencer for the British Library and has conducted work for New York City Library and seats of learning across Europe.
Now a retired pharmacist, Maurice volunteers on Tuesday in the Heritage section of Bedford Central Library and with his brother Paul have given more than 50 lectures on Queens Park Lives which has been extended to include Midland Road.
Maurice said: People are always very interested in the history of where they live and their local towns. Bedford has so much of interest.
To back our campaign to save M&S Bedford, run in conjunction with BedfordBID, go to www.lovebedford.co.uk or call 0333 014 8555 and choose option 6 where a customer service handler will log your name and postcode.
Maurice Nicholson outside the store as it is today with the threat of closure looming large.